John and Jenny
We have fostered way over 50 children now, some of them have stayed with us just for a few days and some have stayed until they have been able to live by themselves. We have fostered children of all ages from babies to teens, we now also foster young mum/dads with their new-born babies.
We started fostering when our own children were growing up and becoming independent, even though the youngest was 10 years he was a well contented child and we knew he could cope with the pressures of having troubled young people in our home. Our children have helped us greatly fostering and without them we could not do it, in fact our daughter is also now a foster carer. We love the opportunity to be able to help children to feel safe, secure and wanted – giving them the opportunity to be a part of a family, enjoying life as a child should.
It is lovely to keep in touch with the children to find out how well they are now doing. We stay in touch with many of the children that have stayed with us. I have on-going contact with my first placement, who is now 22 years old and we speak on the telephone and we sometimes visit each other.
If you are thinking about becoming a foster carer consider what impact fostering will have on your family. What you as a family will get out of it and why you want to do it. It has to be more than just a job - you need a real commitment to foster. It's changed our lives only for the better but its not always easy, you need to be robust as a family so you are there for one another as support then it becomes the most rewarding thing possible.
Helen and Tom
Even amongst foster carers, Tom and I are unusual – we have no children of our own and have specifically chosen to foster older children and teens. We have both always felt that we’re better with teens than young children, and as a secondary school teacher, I am comfortable with teenagers. Having been rather troublesome young people ourselves, we both remember all too vividly just how hard it is being a teenager. I used to volunteer for the Samaritans, and I often spoke with callers who had been through the care system. It seemed to me that a positive foster placement could make the difference between a stable adult life and one that veers chaotically from one disaster to the next.
People assume that looking after teens is challenging, and sometimes it is. Teenagers are busy trying to work out who they are, what they want and how they feel about everything in the world, and meanwhile they have very little control over many aspects of their lives, and everyone expects them to be perfect. When you add to that the strain of being taken into care and the messy, complicated circumstances that lead to a family breakdown, it sometimes amazes me that these young people survive as well as they do. However terrible a child’s behaviour may seem, it is almost always possible to make some sense of it once you understand what they’ve been through – and then, very slowly, you can help them to unlearn their old, destructive patterns and move on.
Fostering is a collaborative effort – you are not parenting on your own, but as part of a team. You spend a lot of time talking to social workers, school staff, GPs, mental health workers and a whole array of other professionals.
My one piece of advice to new foster carers would be to be honest about what you can handle and what will drive you nuts. We have learnt to ask lots of questions before saying yes to a placement. When we first started fostering, a friend invited me round for lunch to meet her former foster daughter Michelle, who is now a social worker in her forties. Michelle gave me a piece of advice that I’ve never forgotten: don’t try to be a saint. Don’t pretend you’re ok when you’re not. You’re not alone, and there’s always help available – you just have to ask for it.
As a single carer I have found fostering teenagers easier to fit into my lifestyle. I work: They go to school/college. Usually they do not need constant attention and part of my role is to give them more freedom and independence in a measured, safe way. This gives me enough time for me.
Teenagers are funny. They are very resourceful and it is an exciting time for them. Being part of that time and helping them to move into adulthood is exciting for me.
I also foster other age groups but I find teenagers more interesting, challenging and rewarding to foster. These are their vital years before adulthood where they need guidance and support to become independent.
I think that teenagers are great. Yes they get a bad press and yes some of them do behave in ways that puts themselves and others at risk. However the majority of teenagers want to become adults and be independent as soon as possible and to live positive fulfilling lives and my role as a foster carer is to help them learn and use the skills to do this.
The skills you need are patience and tolerance in bucket loads. You need to be calm and unflappable and have a sense of humour so that you can laugh with them about things they have done while helping them work out other ways of doing things.
Molly and Bill
Fostering is a way of life for us and we are enriched by all our fostering experiences. We have wonderful memories of all the children. Handing over a child who has lived with you for some years and seeing the delight of child and mother to be reunited at last is a lasting memory and still moves me to recall it.
Fostering means we are often made aware of the trauma that so many young people have to face due to family disruption. It is hard to see them suffering through no fault of their own and to watch them realise that they have no control over the outcomes. We sometimes have to prepare them to move on happily even though it breaks our hearts to part from them. Sometimes we are a stepping stone in their lives and sometimes a permanent safe haven depending on their circumstances. We have to accept that the decisions often aren’t ours to make and this can be hard.
Fostering has had a huge impact on our lives. It has enabled us to be part of a wider family than most experience. Our large family is made up of adopted children, fostered children, birth children and I don’t think anyone would realise who was born at home or who joined the family later. They all look out for each other and are truly ‘family’.
When considering fostering it is important that all members of the family are involved if you are considering fostering as it cannot be done in isolation. Having everyone on board means there is support and advice from all the family. You will need this support as being a foster parent can be challenging and throw up situations you haven’t previously thought about.
Fostering can also be rewarding and pleasurable and most importantly, satisfying and fun. Watching a child/young person settle and helping them accept and deal with their situation can be so rewarding. We give them the chance to experience ‘normal’ family life and create order out of chaos. We can help them feel safe and nurtured plus it can fulfil us to see them thrive in our care. We have to understand that their time with us may be short or long but they are still someone else’s child as well and so we must work in partnership with the department and the birth families wherever possible.
Richard and Heather
We have just been approved as foster carers for disabled children and can’t wait to meet our first child.
My husband uses a wheelchair so our home is fully adapted and he knows a lot about living life to the full with a disability and I am a nurse who could use my skills in caring for a child. We think that the short break scheme is very positive for all involved: the child can meet new people and experience new things away from home whilst in a supportive environment, the birth family can take a break and we can enjoy sharing fun times with a child, knowing that we are helping in his or her development.
We are also approved for short term and long term placements for a disabled child and feel well supported by our social worker as they begin the matching process.
All the staff that we have met have been very professional and helpful; the training has been exceptional and it is always encouraging to meet other foster carers at coffee mornings and training to share thoughts.